The prospect of Sunshine and Santana were welcome on the second day of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
There had been some disappointments in the run-up to the 50th annual Jazz Fest. Both the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac had to cancel for health reasons. Storms then delayed Thursday’s opening, though not for long: By closing time, fans were two-stepping in the mud and a huge crowd was on hand for Earth, Wind & Fire.
The muddy dancing resumed Friday — intense sunshine couldn’t bake away the water that had drenched the site a day earlier. No matter, people in boots and flip flops couldn’t resist as Zydeco wailed from the Fais-do-do stage. Meanwhile, stirring gospel rang out from one tent, traditional jazz from another and rock from other stages while people lined up at food booths to feast on Louisiana favorites like gumbo and crawfish or a variety of international cuisines.
This has been, in part, a festival for reminiscing. George Porter Jr., a bassist and founding member of the celebrated New Orleans funk band The Meters, remembered playing at the first Jazz Fest in 1970. Instead of the infield at the sprawling Fair Grounds Race Course it took place at a park near the French Quarter. Instead of hundreds of thousands, it drew an estimated 300-350.
“That’s all they had room for,” Porter joked during a wide ranging discussion of his life, music and technique on a stage in the race course’s grand stand. He was to take another stage later for more music and less talk with Foundations of Funk, a project that teams him with fellow The Meters founder Zigaboo Modeliste and members of New Orleans’ musical Neville family.
Friday’s forecast called for warm, dry weather for the dozens of acts playing on 10 stages, with Santana closing out a main stage in the evening.
Other highlights included Grammy winner Terence Blanchard at the WWNO Jazz Tent and home-grown R&B artist P.J. Morton, known for his solo work and his keyboarding with Maroon 5.
NOT JUST MUSIC
Gumbo. It’s a signature Louisiana dish and the version served up every year at Jazz Fest by Prejean’s Restaurant of Lafayette — savory, tender pieces of quail and pheasant with bits of andouille sausage, all drenched in a rich brown roux — draws long lines every day. So do booths featuring other Louisiana cuisine — including oyster rockefeller bisque, red beans and rice and any number of dishes featuring crawfish, which are in season these days.
But just as Jazz Fest isn’t only about jazz, the food offerings are international in scope: Cuban, Mexican, Middle-Eastern, Asian.
For the non-adventurousness, there are old fashioned hot dogs available from vendors pushing Lucky Dog carts. And, at the Kids Tent, a vendor who knows her market features peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
NOT JUST FOOD AND MUSIC
Remnants of an 1850s-era wooden boat that craftsman Tom Colvin salvaged from a Louisiana river sat just outside a pavilion where Colvin was displaying boat-building techniques. Nearby Charles Robin was trimming a shrimp net.
Tradition is baked into his life. He’s an eighth-generation fisherman. And he’s been attending Jazz Fest for close to 25 years, since he was a child, showing off the tools of his trade and his Spanish heritage.
“It’s about arts and crafts, peoples’ livelihood,” he said. “There’s a lot of good information to be learned here.”
At another arts booth, Demond Melancon was selling art derived from his life as Big Chief of the Young Seminole Hunters — part of the generations old Mardi Gras Indian tradition — a blending of African American and Native American artistry said to date back to the days of slavery. “It’s a gumbo of cultures,” he said.
His most prominent display: the intricately beaded, richly colored “apron” that was part of his 2016 costume — a wearable mosaic displaying the image of an African prince.